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The 2022 Asia-Pacific PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 125 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the region.
Consultancy of the Year winners are announced and honoured at the 2022 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which return in person to Singapore on 13 October. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:
Almost a decade after entering the Asia market, Allison+Partners has not only built a credible regional presence, but has demonstrated that relative lack of scale need not be a barrier to providing a broad range of strategic services. A relatively new leadership team has ensured that Allison did not miss a beat despite the difficulties wrought by the pandemic, with the firm benefiting from its strength across consumer and corporate, technology and healthcare, supported by strong capabilities in data/analytics, digital experience, media mapping, demand-gen and executive positioning.
Allison now operates its own offices in China (65 people across Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and a new office in Tianjin), Singapore (20 people in the regional headquarters), Australia, India, Japan and Korea, with additional affiliates in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taipei. Parent company Stagwell is also building up other operations in Asia, providing access to additional resources.
Allison’s Asia-Pacific revenue grew by 23.5%, with top 10 clients up by 25%. Significantly, Allison has started exporting business from its newest region to the rest of the world: the firm’s long-standing relationship with TikTok expanded from the APAC region into the US as a result of Allison’s deep knowledge of the brand and its communications priorities. The consumer brands team added new brands such as Suntory and Warner Bros Discovery, while the tech practice picked up work from H3C, Anaplan, Cyclone Robotics, and more. Teradata is now serviced out of five APAC markets, and Qualcomm work expanded into China. The firm also continues to work with BOE, Booking.com, CommScope, Dexcom, Geodis, ResMed and Suntory. Allison also launched a new agency brand in APAC: Headstand, an integrated marketing agency brand spun off from Allison+Partners, opened its first APAC office in Beijing.
Jonathan Heit, global chief operating officer continues to oversee the Asia-Pacific region, with a leadership team that includes Jerry Zhu, partner and managing director, China; Ichise Akemi, CEO, Japan; and Jeremy Seow, managing director, Asia-Pacific. Over the past 12 months, Merry Meng has been appointed general manager of the new Headstand China operation and Adeline Goh was named general manager, Singapore. A more flexible approach to working includes expanded wellness days and gratitude days as well as an agency Day of Giving and other corporate volunteering initiatives.
The past 12-months saw a significant increase in the number of insights-led campaigns, fueled by sophisticated data analysis, audience targeting and creative ideas. The firm’s creative storytelling for Booking.com helped the company thrive despite lockdowns, increasing the platform’s daily search queries up to 44% month-on-month across APAC. And brand communications for Dyson in China and Korea had an impact across multiple stakeholder audiences. Two thought leadership studies were launched last year: one, in collaboration with CARMA Asia, focused on Big Tech: Media Perspectives and Trends, while the other, Technology PR's Tug of War: The Battle of Brand vs Product provided deep insights into priorities and tension points across various stakeholders in the technology brand environment. There was also growth in issues and crisis management, especially related to the ongoing economic impact of Covid-19.
— Paul Holmes
Interpublic agency DeVries Global marked its 10th anniversary in Asia-Pacific in 2012, having progressed far beyond its roots as a P&G spin-off to become a regional boutique that is focused on next generation consumers across a range of sectors, with lifestyle and healthcare to the fore. Now under the leadership of Darren Burns, DeVries’ efforts to become a global consumer comms agency with an Asian lens has been bolstered by strong social commerce and marketing capabilities at its Shanghai office, along with significant healthcare and creative depth in Singapore, and influencer marketing expertise in Taipei.
There are 100+ DeVries Global employees across offices in Beijing and Shanghai (70 in total), Taipei (20) and Singapore (25).
Asia-Pacific grew 10% in 2021, led by 25% expansion in Singapore/Southeast Asia — where strong credentials in performance PR, consumer health, youth marketing and design is reflected in work for Abbott, Porsche, P&G and Acuvue. Shanghai and Beijing were up 8%, underpinned by expanded integrated marketing capabilities that have attracted new business from Midea, ByteDance, Novartis and Roche. And, Taipei was also up, by 5%, thanks to a compelling focus on social/digital, and influencer marketing for such clients as P&G, Converse, 17Live, Jardine Restaurant Group, Klook and First Aid Beauty. Around a third of the firm’s portfolio is Asian brands, and about a quarter comes from healthcare (+42% in 2021) — reflecting consistent growth in both areas.
Burns’ leadership team includes mainland China leader Lydia Shen, Singapore & Southeast Asia MD Rafidah Rashid, and Taipei head Vivian Liu. There were also a number of promotions and appointments, including Li Ting Ng and Isabelle Marchand as senior directors in Singapore, and Kurt Deng as ECD in Shanghai. DeVries also has a strong DEI training focus, supported by numerous health and wellbeing initiatives, resulting in impressive employee scores.
DeVries’ retains a particularly compelling focus on culture marketing in Asia, supported by specific research into Gen Z, and a creative incubator — which helped land SABRE nominations for P&G and Abbott. Indeed, much of the firm’s best work is based on cultural insight research, including significant programmes for Novartis, AB InBev, and Acuvue Hong Kong.
— Arun Sudhaman
E-J Granleese launched History Will Be Kind (HWBK) in 2014 with the lofty aim of “creating moments in history for clients” by managing reputations, raising profiles, launching products, and starting movements. The agency works with B2B and B2C brands across entertainment, technology, travel, property, SME, health, FMCG and not-for-profit sectors, on everything from strategy to crisis and reputation management to creative to business impact. HWBK's focus was more important than ever during another year marked by challenge and change, with activity including a Start-up Hub — partnering with ambitious brands during post-pandemic recovery — baking social impact and innovation into its strategic planning process, from inclusive design to D&I led campaigns, alongside committing to B Corp accreditation. The agency also introduced a Content Remix Lab and revamped its owned influencer and content co-creation studio, History Makers.
History Will Be Kind is based in Sydney and also has an office in Melbourne.
A core goal was to reinvigorate relationships with foundation clients, with many approaching the 4/5 year tenure mark. The agency introduced a client relationship lead model and focused on organic growth. The result was strong organic growth (10% from its top ten clients) and stability: 96% of revenue came from retained relationships, and the agency has a 97% client retention rate. Overall, fee income grew by more than 29% to AUD$2.4 million. There was plenty of new business, too, thanks to a new approach to responding to briefs: HWBK paused participation in competitive RFIs and focused on engagement, counsel and collaboration from day one. New clients included Celebrity Cruises and new low-fee online share investing platform Sharesies, who joined a roster including Randstad, Google, Ferrero and Etihad.
History Will Be Kind actively cultivates diversity in its team and its client work, with strong female leadership, a pay parity commitment and eight nationalities; it is also a founding partner in the RCG lobbying commitment to address immigration challenges. In 2021, the agency expanded its approach on policies from parental leave to flexible working and accommodated major life decisions, from side hustles and study to relocation. It also launched the History Be Kind To Yourself commitment via mental health and wellbeing initiatives, gave everyone a personal training allowance, reviewed benefits and renewed its focus on coaching and mentoring. Beating the talent crisis, the independent firm had staff retention of 90%, growing 40% to 21 people and promoting from within.
During 2021, HWBK continued its Sounding Board, a network for independent agency leaders to share strategies and build support; and championed entrepreneurship with its licensed product diversification strategy, Collective Ventures, shifting into owned-product development and business incubation. The initiative has already led to two start-ups: healthtech Soundstorm and ecommerce firm Bedsmade. HWBK’s top work of 2021 includes a SABRE-shortlisted campaign for Randstad to highlight the benefits of a gender diverse workforce in a booming construction sector suffering from severe skills shortages. The Women in Construction Report sparked national debate and delivered positive stories, downloads and web views via content across earned, owned and paid. The team also supported Ferrero brand Kinder’s launch into the biscuit aisle with an influencer-led campaign for Kinder Happy Hippo that contributed to sales significantly exceeding expectations and propelling the snack into the top 20 in its category just six months after launch.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Consumer lifestyle agency Poem was launched seven years ago by former Freuds and One Green Bean alumni Rob Lowe and Matt Holmes. Its rise is unsurprising, given its founding duo’s pedigree and the appeal of its hybrid publicity, social, media, content and creative approach in Australia’s competitive consumer market. Lowe and Holmes set out to overcome big agency fatigue by building a ‘creativity publicity’ firm that strives to be ‘deeply human’, creating paid, owned and earned media (hence the agency’s name) campaigns that move people enough that they're willing to invest time, money and attention in a brand. The agency is made up of four divisions: Poem PR, Poem Influencer, Poem Social and Poem Studio – the latter creative hub and content production division has made a huge contribution to the agency’s success by creating earned content that drives engagement for social, PR, owned media and above-the-line. The agency has also recently bolstered its skills by working with a consumer behavioural psychologist and strategy expert.
Poem has one office, in Sydney, from which its 22 employees service clients across Australia and New Zealand.
The 22-strong agency grew income by 41% to more than AUD$3.6 million in 2021. Poem won the Nespresso brand portfolio at the start of 2021 and this has already grown considerably due to the introduction of Poem Studio, with an increase in its remit across content creation and work on other Nestlé brands including KitKat and Allens. Winning Menulog bolstered Poem’s client portfolio further; the food delivery service joined Sony PlayStation, the New South Wales government, Icebreaker and Krispy Kreme on the agency’s roster.
Poem is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive culture, which for the agency means seeking out, understanding, respecting and celebrating gender, ethnicity, age, religion, physical capabilities and sexual orientation. While the past two years have been challenging, the agency’s 'deeply human' culture saw it through the second year of the pandemic.
The agency’s best work over the year included the PlayStation 2 Plate campaign, which mixed the worlds of gaming and food: in partnership with brand experience agency Amplify, it brought food featured in some of PlayStation’s top titles to life via popular restaurants (and with buy-in from media and influencers), including a burger from ‘The Last Of Us’ and pasta from ‘Unchartered’, delivered to fans by Deliveroo. Poem also refreshed the Menulog food awards, which celebrate Australia’s favourite local takeaway restaurants and meals, boosting measured brand awareness by mixing the glamour of TV and film awards with the seduction of home delivery food, to create ‘The Menulogies’, inviting fans on social to be ‘Armchair Academy’ critics with the chance to review food for free for a year.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
A top three player in the Japanese public relations market, which continues to be dominated by domestic agencies—generally regarded as better connected to the Japanese media and better attuned to the Japanese consumer—Sunny Side Up is perhaps best known for its work in the events space, and in sports marketing in particular. But more recently, the firm has expanded into broader consumer and corporate PR activities, adding digital expertise to its experiential core and focusing heavily on social purpose. (It also operates several other businesses, in areas as diverse as human resource management, athlete management, and restaurant management.)
Headquartered in Tokyo, Sunny Side Up has the bulk of its operations in Japan, but also has a subsidiary in Korea and is active in Hawaii. The firm has established a partnership with Red Havas and has a particularly close working relationship with its One Green Bean operation in Australia.
Sunny Side Up moved up to 18th in our global agency rankings last year, thanks to the 17% growth in revenue that made the firm a nearly $146 million operation. New clients included Universal Music, Legoland, Giorgio Armani, The Walt Disney Company, Electronic Arts and Rémy Cointreau. They join a roster populated by the likes of P&G Prestige, Uniqlo, Nespresso, Uber, Tinder and Huawei. The agency last year launched two divisions around promoting social good — one that supports human resources and project creation and another that creates and executes its own projects, like a recent one launched to raise awareness of women’s issues.
Etsuko Tsugihara, president, founded the company in 1985 and has built it into the force it is today. Having tested positive for Covid at the end of 2020, she was one of a handful of business leaders to speak out about it, disseminating information to help other infected citizens and becoming a social media influencer on the topic. In June 2021, Tsugihara, was appointed chairperson of the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) Committee on diversity & inclusion. The appointment was in recognition of Tsugihara’s long-standing commitment to DEI in her own organization. Since 2015, Sunny Side Up has supported employee organizations, provided subsidies for egg freezing and granted leave to employees in same sex or common law marriages. As of June 2021, Sunny Side Up’s ratio of women was at 40%, already achieving the target announced by Keidanren of a 30% ratio of female executives in Japan by 2030.
Highlights of 2021 include Sunny Side Up’s work for P&G showcasing women’s accomplishments during the pandemic, which featured people like swimmer Rikako Ikee, who returned to competition after beating leukemia. Another highpoint was the agency’s work securing Covid vaccines for entertainment industry workers, many of whom didn’t have the option of working remotely. Sunny Side Up expanded its educational activities, too, rolling out educational apps for elementary school students, all of whom were receiving government-issued tablets. The apps were downloaded onto 118,000 devices by March 2021.
— Diana Marszalek
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